I’ve been living aboard Lealea, V1860 now since 1990. Long enough that it seems perfectly normal!
People often ask me about living on a small boat like the Vega; often enough that I know that it’s not really normal. OK, it’s downright strange. In the island city of Honolulu, population 895,600, approximately 300 people live on their boats. You can easily cut that number in half if you consider only those who live on boats under forty feet LOA. That puts me well into eccentric territory. So it’s not normal to live on a small boat. Nonetheless, a lot of people ask about it so there must be some interest. There is even a magazine devoted to living aboard and several books, not to mention numerous websites and blogs, all devoted to answering the burning question:
“Where do I put all my stuff!?”
Actually, that’s only the first question. But it is certainly the most important. The answer is “Get rid of it!” You have too much stuff anyway. You will find it very liberating to get rid of all the baggage you’ve been dragging through life all these years.
In 1988 I moved from a three bedroom house into a one bedroom apartment. In 1990 I moved out of the apartment onto the boat. Garage sales and Goodwill or the Salvation Army and finally the trash can reduced my possessions sufficiently to fit on the boat. Some things are obvious: The multi-component stereo with the big speakers is replaced by the onboard audio system. The dressers, beds, couches, chairs, dining room table etc. are all replaced by onboard furniture. I learned that quality of life instantly improves by selling the TV set. Nearly twenty years after moving aboard, I am still throwing stuff away, but now we can sail the boat without our possessions getting in the way.
Clothes are the big problem. You just have to make the tough choices. Admit it. You have far more clothes than you need and still you buy more. We all do. Make it an iron clad rule that whenever you buy something new, you must throw away or donate the item it replaces. Get rid of all but the most essential. If you are working, you will need more clothes than if you are cruising but if you won’t be wearing a particular item at least once a month, get rid of it.
Books and magazines are a problem for us as both of us are voracious readers. Our solution is the book exchange at the marina fuel dock. But you have to remember the rule: get one - give one. Better yet, give two.
Now, I have a confession to make: We have a storage locker. Yes, when Laura and Bree joined me their stuff, added to mine, was just too much. We are working on it however and will eventually get back to everything we own on board. More important than just making everything fit on the boat is getting down to just what is necessary. Remember, you need to have room for food and water enough for the crew for the longest cruise you are planning plus a sufficient reserve and you have to consider the weight. The Vega is a fine boat but it does not like to be overloaded. You will also need room for tools, spares and ground tackle.
I can’t tell you what you need to keep and what to discard. Everyone lives life differently. Laura and I need motorcycle helmets, boots and leather jackets for example, at least as long as we are working our current regular jobs. You may need your hockey stick or cello or surfboard. Just remember: If you can’t stow it securely below deck, you need to leave it behind when you leave the dock.
Are you planning to live on the boat and never take her out of the slip? Or will you be cruising or sailing regularly? The more stuff you bring aboard, the less you will want to sail because it will become a huge chore to get the boat ready for sea. Everything aboard must be stowed keeping in mind that the boat may wind up upside down at some point. You can’t have the potted plants and the cat box flying across the cabin at the first gust of wind so it’s best to forego the potted rubber tree altogether (For the cat box solution consult Bree). The wine bottle or crock pot that sits happily on the counter top when the boat is in the slip will become so much shrapnel as you hoist the sails and the boat heels over. Everything not nailed, screwed or tied down or secured in a locker will fly to leeward when the wind catches your sails.
We have one neighbor whose boat is almost invisible for all of his stuff on deck; he never goes sailing. Our boat takes about an hour to get ready for a day-sail. We keep the sails in the cockpit lockers and the boom lashed on deck and we have full length four-piece awnings that need to be taken down and stowed in the locker the sails came out of. We have friends who claim they can cast off with fifteen minutes notice.
So first, get rid of all your excess stuff.
What should you keep? Let’s start with personal things first.
Pretend that you are going on a trip and can only take what will fit in an airline carry-on bag. That’s your personal stuff limit. Laura and I spent three weeks at sea aboard HM Bark Endeavour with no more and that had to include our foul weather gear. Realistically, a week’s worth of clothes is all you need and I don’t mean three changes of fresh clothes a day. Try to get as close to that ideal as possible. Laura and I have two weeks worth each for work. We go to the Laundromat every Saturday and drop off week 2’s bag and pick up week 1’s freshly laundered and folded. Besides work clothes we have a couple of pairs of walking shorts and a few casual tops (Hers) and workout togs. We have cold weather clothes, fleeces and such, which we keep in duffel bag like cushions that live in the main cabin and make lounging more comfortable. Laura has a couple of nice dresses and one pair of dress shoes. I keep a blazer on the boat and wear it with my usual work outfit of khakis and aloha shirt when the occasion requires. I am required to wear a business suit from time to time. I keep it at the office along with my ties. We are prepared for every occasion from jogging around the park to attending the Governor’s Ball.
If you are not going to the office everyday, you can get by on far less. Do you really need three dozen T-shirts? No. You will need sensible layers of clothing. I’m not suggesting that you need to go out and buy new stuff but, by all means, if it feels good and you can afford it, go ahead. As a first step, I recommend you replace your cotton small clothes with silkweight capilene from Patagonia or something similar, lightweight and synthetic. At sea, we start with Patagonia silkweight capilene boxers and t-shirts and, maybe, surf shorts. When it’s warm enough that’s all you need until the sun gets high then it’s time to put on long sleeves and long pants for protection. A good hat is also a must. In colder weather the above plus fleece pants and shirt under foul weather gear is all you’ll need (edit. I wrote this before we sailed up to latitude 48. We both have more woolens now). We have three fleece tops each and two pants. Half a dozen sets of boxers and t-shirts will suffice. The Patagonia stuff takes up almost no room at all in the locker. For excursions ashore, three sport shirts and walking shorts or khaki pants will be enough for guys. Laura has her wardrobe pretty well worked out. Ladies consult her column.
Anything that can serve double duty should be made to do so. The fleece you wear on watch can also serve on a cool day ashore. I wear the same khaki pants sailing that I wear to work. Boat shoes work just fine at the office too. Laura and I wear the same t-shirts, boxers and shorts lounging on the boat when its warm.
That should take care of the clothing for now.
Men have tools. Often they have large toolboxes full of them. Guys, I’m here to tell you that your prized forty drawer Snap-On tool chest will have to stay ashore. The good news is that some tools are essential and they don’t count as part of your personal gear because they are essential boat gear. Make sure you have what you need – but NO MORE. Knowing what you need can only come with experience and that only comes from not having the right tool when you need it. You will need the basics; a set of open and box end wrenches to fit every nut and bolt on the boat, a set of screwdrivers, channel locks, vice grips, hack saw and bolt cutters and adjustable wrenches in various sizes. Make sure you have one big enough to fit the stuffing box. A brace and bits and one of those eggbeater type hand drills will come in handy if you can find one. You will figure out what you need over time. Get a couple of heavy canvas tool bags to keep them in. There is no place for a metal tool box on a boat and even plastic ones have metal latches and hinges to rust and break. How do I know this? Three guesses. I do have a sort of “Tool cabinet” made entirely of polyethylene that Laura got me for Christmas one year. It is about three inches thick when closed and mounts on the back of the head door where it is both out of the way and handy. It contains sockets ratchets, screw drivers allen keys and wrenches enough to deal with most minor repairs. No hammers, saws or drills though.
Power tools come in handy but just the basics; circular saw, saber saw, drill motor and router for those interior projects and for making holes in the boat. If you are serious about cruising, as opposed to just living aboard, buy used and sell before you cast off. Buy used again at your destination if you have need. Power tools are heavy and take up space that can be better used for food and water. Besides, you can’t use power tools at sea.
I use the same basic toiletries kit I have used since my Army days. Most men probably can get along with just a Dopp kit; toothbrush, razor, blades, shaving soap, after shave, bar soap and bottle of shampoo. Women? Well, just try to keep it reasonable. Laura’s kit is actually smaller than mine. While in harbor, you will be walking up to the showers (Or hosing yourself off at the dock) so you will need an organized toiletries bag. We also have gym memberships and often get our showers after our workouts. I run a line from the backstay to the mast, under the awnings, where we hang damp towels, wet swim suits etc. out of sight when in port. Many marinas frown on laundry drying on the lifelines.
That brings us to the second burning question:
“Where do you, you know, go to the bathroom?”
For bathing, we have the marina shower room, or the yacht club or the gym. I have a shower at work too. On the boat, you have a sink and washcloth. Not too complicated. If you are in a marina (Legally living aboard of course) you will have a shower key for which you will have given a deposit. For some people this is the deal breaker – no private bathroom. Wimps.
As for the other thing we use a bathroom for……………
If you have a traditional thru hull marine head you may have to have a seal on it to prove you haven’t used it but in any case you will not be able to use it within three miles of shore. If you have a holding tank, you will have to go to the nearest pump-out station to pump out. If you have a “Porta-Pottie” type head, you can take the tank out and dump it at the marina bathroom facility. I recommend the Porta-Pottie as the most sanitary and convenient but, frankly, we have never used ours. At sea, we find a plastic bucket with a lanyard attached much more easy to use and more sanitary. In port, we use the provided facilities. I goes without saying: Check local rules and regulations before dumping or pumping.
What do you do about cooking?
We have found the two-burner non-pressurized alcohol stove to be perfectly adequate for our needs. In port, we use a couple of AC electric appliances, a water kettle and a slow cooker, but most of our cooking is done on the stove. In the morning we may have pancakes, eggs, oatmeal etc. Sandwiches are popular. In fact, that reminds me: When I first bought Lealea from Rick “The Mad Scientist” Monteverde, he told me that I would be eating “A lot of sandwiches”. (That’s because the pressurized alcohol stove that came with the boat was broken) Suit yourself. We both like to cook and the small challenge presented by the limitations of Lealea’s galley just makes it more fun. Unfortunately, the two burner non-pressurized alcohol stove by Origo that we like so much is no longer available from our favorite marine supplier and the single burner unit is outrageously expensive. Shop around.
We do not have a refrigerator. (GASP!!) This has never been a problem for us and I have never had to worry about excessive current draw or expensive repairs or the meat going bad or a green streak down the side of the boat from the drain. An added benefit is that we have that much more room for stores. Believe it or not, folks got along quite nicely without refrigeration for thousands of years. While I can’t recommend keeping an open jar of mayonnaise for too long, I can attest that most things that say “Refrigerate immediately after opening” will keep quite well for much longer than you have been led to believe. Consult Annie Hill (Cruising on a Small Income) or Tristan Jones or Lyn and Larry Pardey if you don’t believe me. All available in the Ship's Store)This is a matter of discarding your land-bound prejudices. People who live in houses routinely consider a freezer full of dead animal flesh and a large refrigerator to keep everything else in an absolute necessity. It is not. Not that I am a vegetarian mind you. I am not. If we want steaks, yardbird, or such, we buy it today and eat it tonight. Provisioning for long passage is another matter and has been covered in any number of cruising books so I will not go into it here. Cold drinks are nice of course. We take a cooler with block ice on short trips but we rarely use it in port.
Of course you certainly can install a refrigerator. That is up to you. In my opinion, however, it is a needless expense and complication. Cool your beer with ice in while port. Drink red wine or whisky at sea.
More coming soon. If you have any questions email me